The human capacity for burden is like bamboo – far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance. – Jodi Picoult
Are you feeling surprisingly OK despite this crisis?
Each day of this quarantine has seemed to have a different tenor for me. I’ve moved from frantic problem-solving mode (Moving classes online! Stocking the fridge! Setting up three home offices!) to contented nesting (Yes, all five of the compartments in my mudroom bench have been cleaned out and vacuumed.)
I’ve felt adrift. I’ve felt secure. I’ve felt isolated. I’ve felt more connected than ever. I’ve felt busy. I’ve luxuriated in my relative lack of schedule. Most consistently, despite a constant deep, pressing concern for the wellness and livelihoods of those around me, I’ve felt remarkably OK.
And I’m not alone. Most of the people I’ve spoken with are also a little surprised at how OK they feel despite the limitations, despite the uncertainty and despite not knowing how long we will be asked to stay at home.
What is resilience?
The word that kept popping up as I thought about this surprising OK-ness is resilience. So, I looked it up. And I didn’t like what I found.
Resilience: 1) the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. 2) the ability of a subject or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
– Google dictionary
To me, there is nothing tough about the resilience I’m experiencing and witnessing. It is gentle. It is flexible. It’s not quick as much as it is persistent. Finally, I don’t have the sense that any of us are “springing back into shape.” It feels more like we’re allowing ourselves to be shaped and formed by this crisis.
So, I kept looking and found a definition more in line with my experience. According to the American Psychological Association (A.P.A.), psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.
This resilience that I’m sensing feels very much like a process. Like balance on a yoga mat, I’m not sure we’re achieving resilience and holding it. It’s more like we’re finding it anew moment to moment depending on what news we’ve just absorbed or the mood of our housemate or the person we talked to last.
Resilience is something we can (and should) practice.
The folks at The Greater Good Science Center of U.C. Berkeley have found that resilience is a quality we can develop – indeed, it is something we can practice. In their excellent article, Five Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience, they offer 12 practices, divided into five categories, that they have found help people confront trials more skillfully.
Because you and I are connected because we share a love for living in a way that reflects what we’ve learned on our yoga mats, I offer you a yoga-based version of the Greater Good Science Center’s practices that can help us develop resilience.
5 ways to practice resilience on your yoga mat.
- Change the narrative.
Over and over on your yoga mat, you have the opportunity to edit your inner narrator. You have the opportunity to change “I can’t” to “I can’t yet.” You have the opportunity to shift your focus from what you messed up to what you got right. In other words, you can choose the mood of your own story. It may not change reality, but it will absolutely change the way reality feels.
- Face your fears.
In a stressful or fear-laden time like the one we’re navigating our fears can feel so big and so boundless that they can overwhelm us. Getting on your yoga mat and chipping away at a posture that scares you a little is a great way to grapple with your sense of fear. Even a baby-step toward conquering a teeny-tiny fear like the ones we experience in yoga can leave us feeling powerful and strong as we face life’s more daunting fears.
- Practice self-compassion.
Your yoga practice is the perfect time to practice being kind to yourself. If you’re exhausted, do less. If you’re twitchy and anxious, do a more vigorous practice. If you’re sad, let those tears roll down your face as you move and breathe. There is no wrong way to feel on your yoga mat. It’s easier to remember that the same is true in life when you’re practicing every day.
Yoga is a moving meditation. As we synchronize our movements with or breathing, we shift our state of mind. Practicing mindfulness (on and off the mat) keeps us focused on the present, which is a very manageable place to be, unlike the uncertain and uncharted future we’re facing right now.
- Cultivate forgiveness.
While there is no one to forgive for this global pandemic, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that living in such close quarters is giving me plenty of chances to let go of irritation and even a little ill will. Here’s the thing: forgiveness is as good for us as it is for the person we’re forgiving. A regular yoga practice offers us dozens of chances to practice forgiving ourselves (for extra breaths, poor landings, messed up postures, wobbly balance). All this practice makes us better at forgiving others as well.
I’ve been known to say that while yoga will not change what life brings your way, it will absolutely change how you respond to what life brings your way. It turns out that the gifts of a regular yoga practice make us more resilient, which is a quality that we perhaps need now more than ever before.
Go ahead, unroll your mat. Move and breathe. Pay attention. You will feel better. You might even discover that you, like me, are surprisingly OK.
It doesn’t matter how you practice, just that you do! If you’re not sure how to get started while yoga studios in your neighborhood are closed, Yoga With Spirit is offering several ways to practice with us virtually. You can participate in two live-stream classes each week or practice with recordings of these classes. Or you can practice with one of our two yoga videos.